Kate Pritchard

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The market for teen books just continues to grow, and though we can’t cover them all in these pages, we want to let our loyal readers know about a few new titles in some of the hottest teen series out there.

From the hills of Hollywood to the private grounds of elite schools, there are plenty of books set in the exclusive world of privilege and money. Scandal, by Kate Brian (latest in the long-running Private series), reunites readers with Reed Brennan as she returns to the prestigious—and dangerous—Easton Academy. Meanwhile, those who enjoy stories about the fabulously rich and famous will be happy to know about Jen Calonita’s Broadway Lights, the newest title in her Secrets of My Hollywood Life series. And of course, don’t forget about Lauren Conrad’s sequel to L.A. Candy, Sweet Little Lies.

For those whose tastes run more toward the scary or supernatural, there’s a wealth of exciting new titles, like Lisa McMann’s Gone—third in the series that began with 2008’s Wake, about a girl who unwillingly experiences other people’s dreams—or the chilling post-zombie-apocalypse story The Dead-Tossed Waves by Carrie Ryan, sequel to last year’s The Forest of Hands and Teeth.

And on March 16th, L.J. Smith will release The Return: Shadow Souls, the latest in the Vampire Diaries series, now the basis for the TV show of the same name.

Finally (and also on March 16th), the last book in Garth Nix’s Keys to the Kingdom series will be released. Lord Sunday will follow 12-year-old Arthur Penhaligon as he comes to the end of his quest for the seven Keys that began with 2003’s Mister Monday. Teens who love fantasy and adventure won’t want to miss any of the books in this exciting series!

The market for teen books just continues to grow, and though we can’t cover them all in these pages, we want to let our loyal readers know about a few new titles in some of the hottest teen series out there. From the hills of Hollywood to the private grounds of elite schools, there are […]
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For those trying to select a gift for a teenager, the choice can be fraught with uncertainties. Trends among teens change quickly, and what was the must-have possession last year is now hopelessly out-of-date. But books are a timeless gift, and if chosen carefully, they will be cherished for many years to come. That’s where we come in. From vampires to sports to historical adventure, we’ve selected the best books for every teen on your list.

Creatures of the night
If you know someone who’s caught the Twilight fever, you’re in luck: nothing is hotter in teen fiction right now than vampires, werewolves, zombies and other strange and spooky creatures. Assuming your giftee already owns all four books in Stephenie Meyer’s hit series, another set of teen paranormals could be just what you’re looking for. In The Van Alen Legacy, fourth in the Blue Bloods series by Melissa de la Cruz, our heroine is a wealthy Manhattan teen at an elite private school—who just happens to be the latest in a long line of vampires. Schuyler Van Alen has money, privilege and power, yet all the glamour of her life may not be enough to protect her from a rival group of vampires, the Silver Bloods.

Worlds of wonder
There’s no shortage of well-written and engaging fantasy and science fiction books for teens; in recent months, BookPage has reviewed such excellent titles as Suzanne Collins’ edge-of-your-seat Catching Fire (sequel to The Hunger Games, this reviewer’s pick for the best book of 2008), Scott Westerfeld’s steampunk adventure Leviathan and Kristin Cashore’s gripping Fire (prequel to Graceling). Another series not to be missed is the Chaos Walking books by Patrick Ness. Last year’s The Knife of Never Letting Go introduced Ness’ truly imaginative setting, a world in which something called the “Noise germ” has killed all the women and caused the thoughts of both men and dogs to be broadcast aloud ceaselessly—and where 12-year-old Todd Hewitt may have discovered a very dangerous secret. Now, in the recently released The Ask and the Answer, Todd must face a new set of challenges and decide where his loyalties lie.

Danger on the high seas
If your teen likes swashbuckling adventure, narrow escapes and sea monsters, these two books will be a surefire hit. In Roland Smith’s Tentacles, the sequel to Cryptid Hunters, Marty and Grace O’Hara go along for the ride when their uncle rents a freighter and sets off for New Zealand in search of a giant squid. But will a mysterious saboteur end their journey before they can find the creature? The fascinating science of cryptids (animals thought to exist only in myth) and Smith’s fast-paced story will capture the imagination of any action-loving reader.

Seventh in the Bloody Jack series, L.A. Meyer’s Rapture of the Deep continues the story of Jacky Faber, a young woman who was once a homeless orphan on the streets of late-18th-century London, but has since been a sailor, a pirate and a spy, among other occupations. Now Jacky is about to marry her true love, Jaimy—but her plans are foiled when the two are kidnapped by the British Navy and packed off to Florida to search for sunken treasure. Jacky’s many adventures may strain credulity, but readers will be too engrossed in the story to mind.

The best-laid plans
Of course, there are plenty of teens who don’t care for vampires and want to read a story set in the real world. In Peter Lerangis’ wtf, six teens make plans for a wild night, but it soon gets much wilder than any of them expected. On the back roads of Westchester County and in the pulse-pounding clubs of Manhattan, they follow one another through a complex and twisting plot. From the shocking beginning to an ending that still manages to surprise, this is one book readers won’t be able to put down.

Cat Locke, heroine of Robin Brande’s Fat Cat, makes herself the subject of an experiment that will be sure to win top honors at the science fair, and show up her rival (and former best friend) Matt McKinney in the process. Her project—she resolves to  live like Homo erectus, giving up everything from driving to hair products to artificial sweeteners—is brilliant, but will Cat manage to pull it off? And how will her friends and family, not to mention Matt, respond to the new Cat she is becoming? Sharp writing and fully realized characters propel the story and make the resolution both sweet and
satisfying.

On and off the court
Sports play a major part in the lives of many teens, and this pair of sports-themed novels will surely find many fans among not just basketball and football stars, but anyone who enjoys a heartwarming story. In Front and Center, third in the Dairy Queen trilogy by Catherine Gilbert Murdock, D.J. Schwenk has spent the past five months as the center of attention, first when she went out for the boys’ football team, and then when her brother was seriously injured. Now that Win is home from the hospital and basketball season has started, D.J. is happy to be in the background again. But between a budding romance, college recruiters and the expectations of her basketball coach, she won’t be able to stay out of the spotlight for long. Murdock’s sense of humor and pitch-perfect ear for dialogue make D.J.’s story as compelling as any Big Ten showdown.

Thirteen-year-old Nate Brodie, hero of Mike Lupica’s Million-Dollar Throw, has the best throwing arm his football coach has ever seen. When he wins the chance to throw a pass through a target on live television—even better, at a Patriots game, Nate’s favorite team—for a million-dollar prize, it could be exactly what his family needs to get them through some tough financial times. But Nate worries that he’ll let his family down if he fails to make the pass. And if that’s not enough, his best friend Abby is going blind, and he doesn’t know how to help her. Nate is a wholly likeable character, and the support he receives from his parents and friends helps him to make the right choices when it really counts.

For those trying to select a gift for a teenager, the choice can be fraught with uncertainties. Trends among teens change quickly, and what was the must-have possession last year is now hopelessly out-of-date. But books are a timeless gift, and if chosen carefully, they will be cherished for many years to come. That’s where […]
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Cheryl Strayed’s memoir, Wild, about hiking the Pacific Crest Trail after the death of her mother and the dissolution of her marriage, was one of 2012’s biggest and best books. Even Oprah thought so; she made it her first pick when she relaunched her book club! With its clear-eyed portrayal of Strayed’s all-consuming sorrow and loneliness, and the incredible story of her (some might say foolhardy) determination to seek answers in an unforgiving landscape, Wild was #2 on the BookPage editors’ Best of 2012 list.

Strayed’s memoir encompasses so many different themes—grief, adventure, the healing power of nature, the journey to forgiveness and growth, discovering a community of like-minded misfits—that each reader takes away something different. If you’re longing for something in a similar vein, try one of the following.


Let's Take the Long Way Home by Gail CaldwellLet’s Take the Long Way Home by Gail Caldwell

Like Wild, Let’s Take the Long Way Home is a heartbreaking but beautifully told memoir of living through loss. When Gail Caldwell met Caroline Knapp, the two formed a quick, deep bond over such shared experiences as the joys and frustrations of writing, long walks with their beloved dogs and their self-destructive, alcoholic pasts. Knapp was diagnosed with lung cancer in 2002 and died a few short months later; Caldwell’s grief over the loss of her friend knocked her flat. Her book is a powerful testament to a close friendship and the person she has become in its wake.
 


Claiming Ground by Laura BellClaiming Ground by Laura Bell

Laura Bell’s life has taken many unexpected turns. After graduating college in the 1970s, she had a hard time figuring out who, or what, she wanted to be. So she turned to what she knew to be real and true—her love of animals and the land—and moved to Wyoming to become a sheepherder. It was not an easy job, especially for a young woman, but she learned to face her failures and celebrate her strengths, all the while reveling in the harsh splendor of the Western landscape. Over the years, she turned to different jobs (forest ranger, masseuse) and different people for companionship, surviving divorce and agonizing loss along the way. Inspiring in the best way, Bell’s memoir chronicles a lifetime of learning how to be herself.


Townie by Andre Dubus IIITownie by Adre Duhus III

The working-class neighborhoods of Lowell, Massachusetts, are no place for a young boy to admit to any weakness. In such an environment, Andre Dubus III grew up poor and, by age 11, the child of an acrimonious divorce. After years of enduring taunts and violence against his family, he fought back, transforming himself into a strong, vicious boxer and brawler. Eventually, he turned to writing as a way to lift himself out of misery and the dead-end life he was living, and also to untangle his relationship with his father after a serious injury. Light reading it is not, but readers who loved Wild for its unflinching look at Strayed’s sad and troubled family will appreciate the portrait of love and loneliness that Dubus paints in Townie.


Fire Season by Philip ConnorsFire Season by Philip Connors

Philip Connors has spent many summers as a fire lookout in the Gila Wilderness of New Mexico, a job that allows him to attune himself deeply to the natural world around him. Though the work is not as physically demanding as hiking the Pacific Crest Trail, it requires long hours of solitude and the close, thorough observation of the forest. With nothing but the sights and sounds of the woods to distract him, Connors can achieve a sort of meditative peace that lends itself well to the daily practice of writing. When he observes that natural fires (caused by lightning strikes) are often beneficial, even necessary, to the survival of the forest’s ecosystem, readers will realize that the truths he uncovers on the mountain may have meaning in their own lives as well.


A Walk in the Woods by Bill BrysonA Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson

If you’re looking for a lighter take on the experience of long-distance hiking, Bill Bryson’s modern classic A Walk in the Woods is essential reading. Like Strayed, Bryson is not exactly prepared for the rigors of the journey when he sets out to hike the Appalachian Trail, and his bumbling efforts and dry humor make for an irresistible combination. Along the way, he learns about the history and allure of the AT and meets a number of curious characters—including his traveling companion, a cranky, monosyllabic and somewhat rundown friend from his high school days.

 


Take Good Care of the Garden and the Dogs by Heather LendeTake Good Care of the Garden and the Dogs by Heather Lende

Heather Lende, columnist for the Anchorage Daily News, has been compared to writers such as Anne Lamott and Annie Dillard for her gentle but deep-seated spirituality and her love of the natural world—in this case, the mountainous beauty of her Alaska home. In this collection of essays and observations, Lende writes with grace and humor about challenges and triumphs both personal and communal, and captures the spirit of community that infuses her small town. Like Strayed, Lende struggles with big questions, and finds inspiration in the beautiful but unforgiving landscape around her.

Strayed's memoir encompasses so many different themes that each reader takes away something different. If you're longing for something in a similar vein, try one of the following.
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Although Wendy Burden begins her darkly funny memoir, Dead End Gene Pool, by recounting the lives of her ancestors on her father’s side (she’s the great-times-four-granddaughter of Cornelius Vanderbilt), the book’s dedication makes it clear where the heart of her story really lies: “For my mother, goddamn it.”

After Burden’s father killed himself when she was six years old, her mother, Leslie, routinely packed her children off to stay with their grandparents for weekends, summers and whenever she wanted them gone. “Burdenland,” as Leslie contemptuously called it, was as outlandish (and alcohol-soaked) as one expects from the extremely rich, and Burden is especially adept at describing its various settings, from the Fifth Avenue apartment with 14 bathrooms to the private island in Florida. But when Leslie remarried, she began to take a more active role in her children’s upbringing. First in a split-level in Virginia, then in a series of cramped houses in suburban London, they endured not just her terrible cooking and lack of any real maternal compassion, but also her disappointment in them. Burden got the worst of it, constantly fending off remarks about her weight and appearance.

 
Her mother looms large in these pages, most often dressed in skintight microskirts or see-through crochet dresses, setting a standard that her daughter could never reach (and deeply resented). Other family members and housekeeping staff—the retired-Nazi chauffeur, the flatulent, absent-minded grandmother—also play memorable parts, and Burden herself is a delightfully strange character, especially as a child, when her fascination with all things morbid was at its peak. (In one episode, she attempts to drive off one of her mother’s suitors by dressing up like Wednesday Addams and trying to cook her pet hamster in a frying pan.)
 

The narrative loses a bit of steam toward the end, when it seems the best stories have already been told. But the last chapter contains enough revelations and scandal to carry the reader through, and the epilogue supplies Burden with, if not closure, at least some measure of reconciliation—not just with her mother, but with all the ghosts of her history. 

Although Wendy Burden begins her darkly funny memoir, Dead End Gene Pool, by recounting the lives of her ancestors on her father’s side (she’s the great-times-four-granddaughter of Cornelius Vanderbilt), the book’s dedication makes it clear where the heart of her story really lies: “For my mother, goddamn it.” After Burden’s father killed himself when she […]
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If Emma Brockes’ memoir She Left Me the Gun reminds you of Alexandra Fuller’s Don’t Let’s Go to the Dogs Tonight, don’t be surprised. Both books grapple with a larger-than-life mother whose formative experiences in the harsh landscape of southern Africa turned them somewhat eccentric, even melodramatic. But while Fuller’s mother held on for dear life to their farm in what was then Rhodesia, Brockes’ mother, Paula, fled South Africa as soon as she could manage it and lived the rest of her life in England, raising her daughter in the kind of sleepy suburban security she could only have dreamed of as a child.

Furthermore, as it turns out, Paula wasn’t just escaping the heat, the scorpions or the poisonous racial politics in the country of her birth. She was also leaving behind a brutal past marked by abuse.

Throughout Brockes’ childhood, her mother kept the truth about her family under wraps. It was only after she became very sick with cancer that Paula revealed she had testified against her father at a trial. “Deathbed revelations weren’t something people had,” Brockes writes. “That my mother, who would ring me at work with the newsflash that she’d found the socks she was looking for . . . had managed to keep this from me was extraordinary.” Still, even then, Paula wasn’t entirely forthcoming about the details of the disturbing charges against her father.

Brockes, an only child, felt unmoored after her mother’s death; she thought there was more to Paula’s past than she’d let on, but she also craved a connection with her mother’s family back in South Africa, many of whom she’d never met. Flying to Johannesburg to meet her mother’s siblings and oldest friends, Brockes was seeking some grand revelations, and she was not disappointed. These stories are doled out in bits and pieces, foreshadowed and then fulfilled. Along the way, a remarkable family narrative emerges, one with more than its fair share of darkness. Yet Paula herself is not only a sympathetic figure, but even a triumphant one. The love that her seven younger siblings still feel for her is palpable, and her daughter’s admiration only grows with her deeper understanding of her mother’s past.

She Left Me the Gun illuminates the necessary fictions we create when trying to understand our family history, as well as the relief, and even pride, that comes from knowing the truth of our origins, however sad or strange they may be.

If Emma Brockes’ memoir She Left Me the Gun reminds you of Alexandra Fuller’s Don’t Let’s Go to the Dogs Tonight, don’t be surprised. Both books grapple with a larger-than-life mother whose formative experiences in the harsh landscape of southern Africa turned them somewhat eccentric, even melodramatic. But while Fuller’s mother held on for dear […]
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Beth Howard’s marriage to her German husband Marcus was passionate but often tumultuous. His job required long hours and frequent relocations, and over the course of six years she often felt that he didn’t pay enough attention to her own needs. During the summer of 2009, they were living apart—Marcus in Germany, where he had just been relocated once again, and Howard in Terlingua, Texas, working on a memoir about her stint as pie baker to the stars in Malibu. But when Howard suggested they make a plan to see each other during Marcus’ vacation in August, he dismissed her; he was too overwhelmed with plans and schedules at work, and didn’t want to think about making any more arrangements. Fed up, she asked for a divorce.

Marcus protested, but she held firm. That August, instead of coming to see her in Texas, Marcus flew to Portland, Oregon, the city they considered their home base, prepared to sign their divorce papers. A few hours before he was to meet with their divorce mediator, he collapsed and died of a ruptured aorta.

“Psychologists call it complicated grief,” she writes. “Complicated grief is when someone you are close to dies and leaves you with unresolved issues, unanswered questions, unfinished business. . . . Complicated grief is when you ask your husband for a divorce you don’t really want, and he dies seven hours before signing the papers.”

Devastated, Howard returned to Portland to grieve and to figure out what to do next. She turned to the most wholesome, healing activity she could imagine: baking pie. Though her initial attempts to find a job as a baker were unsuccessful, she soon met a friend of a friend who suggested that they travel around the country shooting footage for a potential TV series about pie. They started out with a trip around California, interviewing longtime pie makers, making pie with a group of eight- and nine-year-olds, revisiting the pie shop in Malibu where Howard had worked several years earlier and baking 50 pies to hand out on the streets of L.A. for National Pie Day.

The series didn’t get picked up, but the trip had given Howard enough momentum to keep her going on a new path—one that eventually brought her to Iowa, where she had grown up (and where they know a thing or two about pie), to judge the pie contest at the Iowa State Fair. On a whim, one day she visited the American Gothic House, and learned, surprisingly, that it was for rent. She moved in and, naturally, opened up a pie stand.

Howard’s journey may seem aimless at times, but through it all she is an engaging and sympathetic narrator, and the reader is drawn into her story of grief and healing. You will put down Making Piece believing, as Howard does, that “Pie is comfort. Pie builds community. Pie heals. Pie can change the world.” And if you still need further proof, just try out one of the recipes she includes at the end.

Beth Howard’s marriage to her German husband Marcus was passionate but often tumultuous. His job required long hours and frequent relocations, and over the course of six years she often felt that he didn’t pay enough attention to her own needs. During the summer of 2009, they were living apart—Marcus in Germany, where he had […]
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“There are many kinds of quiet,” as author Deborah Underwood and illustrator Renata Liwska reveal in their marvelous new title, The Quiet Book. There is “Don’t scare the robin quiet” and “Best friends don’t need to talk quiet,” as well as more melancholy variations like “Last one to get picked up from school quiet.” Each “quiet” is accompanied by an illustration that expands upon its meaning, such as “First look at your new hairstyle quiet,” in which a young porcupine’s unfortunate haircut first stuns him into silence, then on the next page sends him running to his mother—who implores him to be “sleeping sister quiet” as a cradle rocks in the foreground.

This progression of “quiets,” as it turns out, tells the simple story of a day in the life of several young characters, including a bear, a bunny and a moose (who is not quite successful at “hide and seek quiet”). Liwska’s deceptively simple illustrations give these little ones a friendly, furry texture and oodles of charm, without ever straying from a muted palette of soft and soothing earth tones. From “First one awake quiet,” which shows a bunny doing some morning stretches, to “Sound asleep quiet,” with the same bunny now curled up in bed with an unusual visitor, Liwska’s scenes illuminate Underwood’s spare and comfortingly repetitive text—perfect for a book that will no doubt engender many “Looking at the pictures quiet” moments for its young readers.

“There are many kinds of quiet,” as author Deborah Underwood and illustrator Renata Liwska reveal in their marvelous new title, The Quiet Book. There is “Don’t scare the robin quiet” and “Best friends don’t need to talk quiet,” as well as more melancholy variations like “Last one to get picked up from school quiet.” Each […]
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Connie Willis, perhaps best known for her tour-de-force time-travel novels such as Doomsday Book and To Say Nothing of the Dog, is back with another story that skips merrily from point to point on the time-space continuum. Blackout and its sequel, All Clear (to be released this fall), follow several characters from their homes in mid-21st-century Oxford to various destinations in World War II-era England—where they may be in more danger than they know.

As Blackout begins, the time-travel lab in 2060 Oxford, which is mostly used by historians doing research into past events, is experiencing some trouble. “Drops” are being pushed back, moved forward and pushed back again; the lab is in a chronic state of disorganization, the costume department is hopelessly behind schedule and nobody is very happy about all the chaos and confusion. Mike Davies, who has been preparing to go to the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor (and has had an American accent implanted for the occasion), is suddenly being sent to the evacuation of British forces at Dunkirk instead, while Polly Churchill learns that she is being sent off to the London Blitz with barely enough time to find out where the bombs are going to fall. Just why the lab technicians can’t manage to stick to a schedule is unclear, but it could perhaps have something to do with a new and disturbing theory that means time travel may not be as innocuous as believed.

Mike, Polly and a third historian, Eileen, are the novel’s protagonists, though they spend most of the book separated from one another and trying, often in vain, to figure out where they are and how to get somewhere else. Missed connections, mistaken assumptions and other such comedy-of-errors scenarios are Willis’ forte, and they are abundant here—although with each new novel set in the future, it becomes increasingly difficult to believe that none of her characters use cell phones! Still, Willis’ fans will be excited to meet and travel with characters both familiar and new, and the complex plot—which unfolds slowly but steadily, as our protagonists draw closer to each other both geographically and chronologically—and cliffhanger ending promise a major payoff in All Clear.

 

Connie Willis, perhaps best known for her tour-de-force time-travel novels such as Doomsday Book and To Say Nothing of the Dog, is back with another story that skips merrily from point to point on the time-space continuum. Blackout and its sequel, All Clear (to be released this fall), follow several characters from their homes in […]
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What's it about?
At some unspecified point in the future of our planet, the human race has been entirely wiped out. But there is still hope for life on Earth: Aliens have arrived and are sifting through the ruined remains of our societies, trying to figure out who we were, how we lived, what we believed . . . and just possibly, how to bring us back. Jon Stewart and his “Daily Show” crew have put together a guide to Earth in order to help these aliens understand us better. From birth announcements to the rituals surrounding death, from money to government to the length of time we were willing to wait for a baked potato, Earth: The Book covers the most important aspects of human history and culture with pictures, graphs, flowcharts, lists, quotes and more, in an attempt to convince the aliens that we are worth resurrecting.

Bestseller formula:
Snarky, irreverent humor + colorful website-style graphics

Favorite lines:
This is the genetic code for the mischievous twinkle behind George Clooney’s eyes. If you replicate nothing else, replicate this.

Worth the hype?
Absolutely! You'll get a kick out of Earth if you enjoy Stewart’s brand of humor.

What's it about?At some unspecified point in the future of our planet, the human race has been entirely wiped out. But there is still hope for life on Earth: Aliens have arrived and are sifting through the ruined remains of our societies, trying to figure out who we were, how we lived, what we believed […]
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Tongues of Serpents, the sixth installment in Naomi Novik’s Temeraire series, opens just as the dragon Temeraire and his captain, Will Laurence, have arrived at the British colony of New South Wales in Australia. Temeraire and Laurence have been sent to Australia as prisoners after being convicted of treason, and the stain on their character is a difficult burden to bear—particularly for Laurence, whose compassion and common sense make him especially appealing to modern readers. But the real hero of these novels is Temeraire, an imposing figure who can blow holes in the sides of ships with his roar (known as “the Divine Wind”), but also loves to work on complex mathematical equations and is quite enamored of gold, jewels and fine clothing.

Temeraire and his fellow dragons are surely Novik’s finest accomplishment. Each dragon is distinguished by physical differences as well as sharply observed personality quirks and foibles. Much of the plot of Tongues of Serpents concerns a long chase through the interior of the Australian continent when one of the dragon eggs that Temeraire has been guarding is stolen; along with Temeraire and Laurence on the quest to recover the egg are Iskierka, a fire-breathing dragon who annoys the rest to no end, as well as two new hatchlings, one of whom puts the entire group in a rather difficult position.

To say much more about the dragons would be to spoil much of the pleasure of Tongues of Serpents. Less action-heavy than previous books in the series, the novel’s high points come with the introduction of new elements into its world, whether new characters or new adversaries, like the water-dwelling bunyips (a creature out of Aboriginal Australian mythology) who devise an ingenious trap for our heroes. Novik’s many fans will be pleased to spend more time with Temeraire, Laurence and their companions, and will be eager to see where their further adventures will take them. 

Tongues of Serpents, the sixth installment in Naomi Novik’s Temeraire series, opens just as the dragon Temeraire and his captain, Will Laurence, have arrived at the British colony of New South Wales in Australia. Temeraire and Laurence have been sent to Australia as prisoners after being convicted of treason, and the stain on their character […]
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Barry Lyga’s debut YA novel, The Astonishing Adventures of Fanboy and Goth Girl, told the story of two high school outcasts: one a self-described geek who spent most of his time writing and illustrating his comic book, and one an angry, depressed girl still reeling from the death of her mother. Fanboy and Goth Girl touched a chord in many readers, and although Lyga has since published several more books, his fans kept asking to see more of those two characters. In Goth Girl Rising, he brings them together once again. Emotions run high and the outcome is uncertain when the two reunite; the result is an honest and thoughtful exploration of friendship, anger and love.

Lyga answered questions about the new book from his home in Las Vegas.

Your three previous YA novels have all been written from the perspective of a teen boy. Was it difficult to get inside the mind of a teen girl for this book?
You know, I worried about that . . . for roughly 10 seconds. The instant I sat down and started writing, the concern went away. Maybe if I was writing about some other teen girl, it would have been difficult, but this is Kyra. I know her. I know her incredibly well. I just said to myself, "OK, I'm Kyra now. What am I thinking?" and the book flew from there.

You make quite a few references to comic book writers such as Brian Michael Bendis and Neil Gaiman in the Fanboy and Goth Girl books. Why did you decide to incorporate real people into these stories, and what was it like to write about them as characters?
I had decided early on that these stories took place in the real world, where there were comic books about Superman and Spider-Man, not in some alternate universe with characters like SuperbGuy and Arachnid-Kid. I could have made up my own ersatz versions of the characters, but it just seemed phony and transparent. Once I decided to use the actual names of the characters, it was just a short step to incorporate the actual names of the people who work on those characters. Using a name like Bendis or Gaiman will immediately communicate volumes of information to someone who knows about those guys, and if a reader doesn't know anything about them, it's not like the story will be harmed by that not knowing. A reader who doesn't know who Bendis is, for example, would just assume I made him up. (And I'm sure Bendis would be thrilled to know someone out there thinks I invented him!) I just felt that using these public figures made the book more authentic, grounding it in reality.

As to what it was like to write about them as characters: It was slightly nerve-wracking at first, but then I just let go and allowed myself to enjoy it. Neil Gaiman is mentioned in the books, but Bendis actually shows up, so I was most concerned with writing his dialogue and getting him right. When I wrote the book, I hadn't met him, so I was flying blind, but then a friend of mine who knows him read the book and said, "Oh my God—you got him! This is exactly how he talks!" So that was cool.

Kyra talks about comic books as having a simple structure, created from basic building blocks such as panel borders and word balloons. Having recently written a book about Wolverine (from the X-Men comics), do you think that's true? How is writing a comic book different from writing a novel or short story?
Well, first of all, the Wolverine book I did (Wolverine: Worst Day Ever) wasn't actually a comic book—it's an illustrated novel. So the concerns aren't really the same as writing a comic book. But I have written comics in the past, and the differences between comics and prose are pretty stark. Each format has its strengths and weaknesses, and there are very complicated distinctions—too complicated to really expound on them here and now beyond some generalizations. In comics, you're really telling a story to the artist, who then interprets it for the audience. It's more akin to filmmaking, in that you have to think visually. In prose, you have the opportunity to get much deeper into the head of the protagonist, but lose some of the visceral thrill of immediate reader identification with a scene, character or moment.

You had a story in the recent YA anthology Geektastic: Stories From the Nerd Herd, and some of your characters—notably Fanboy—consider themselves geeks. Do you identify as a geek? What do you think defines a geek?
Yeah, I guess I identify as a geek, which isn't as shameful these days as it used to be, now that geeks have sort of reclaimed that term and turned it around. I used to do a presentation in schools called "Geekery: An Analysis," which was a half-serious, half-tongue-in-cheek analysis of what a geek was and how geeks rule the world. I think geeks are people who are obsessed with something, possibly obsessed beyond the bounds of what is considered good mental health, and don't mind letting that obsession dictate large portions of their lives. To that degree, crazy sports fans are geeks—they just happen to be geeks for something that society doesn't look down on. There's no qualitative difference between a guy who's learning to speak Klingon and a guy who can recite chapter and verse of every inning of every game in the World Series dating back to 1912. It's just that society has decided that the latter is acceptable and the former is risible.

Screw society. 🙂

All of your books and stories so far have been set at the same school, at roughly the same time and with many of the same characters appearing in them. How do you keep track of the timeline of events and the interactions between characters? Is there a specific time in your mind when all these stories are taking place?
The "specific time" is always roughly "now." I want the stories to feel as if they take place in a loosely definable age that could always be right now. I realize that the comic book references will, inevitably, date the books to a degree, but that was a balance I decided was worth seeking—countering timelessness with immediate identification.

As to how I keep track: Well, most of it is just in my head. I do have a list of all of the teachers and various adults because they're less immediately present in my mind, but the kids are no problem. The kids just tell their stories and things seem to work out.

Your books often contain some raw dialogue and graphic scenes, and have dealt with issues such as suicide and sexual abuse. What makes you decide to include those elements in your writing? Do you worry about your books being censored or banned?
I'll take the second question first: Yeah, I think about it. I'm not sure "worry" is the right word because it sort of implies that I sit around stressing about it, which I don't. It flits through my head, but I don't let that impact how I write or what I write. Our best efforts to the contrary, there will always be a confederation of idiots out there who want to ban books. Sometimes they'll want to ban mine. I prefer to deal with it when it happens and not give them one ounce of my precious thought in advance.

As to the first question: It's not really a decision. It's not like I sit down to write a book and think, "Hmm, what topic or salty language can I add to this?" The topics, the language—these things are integral to the story. They're crucial organs. I write what I write and the way I write it because I'm writing for teens and about teens. This is the world they live in. These are the words they speak. I'm not inventing any of this. I'm just taking it in, massaging it and turning it around for everyone to see. It would be dishonest to write otherwise, I think.

What kind of responses have you gotten from teens who have read your books?
For the most part, great enthusiasm! It's terrific. I think most gratifying have been the kids who write to tell me that they never liked reading until they read one of my books. Most authors have that experience, I believe, and it's great. To think that you've opened up a whole new world to this person. Reading saved my life as a kid—it was the one thing that kept me sane when the world around me made no sense. So to be able to give that gift back into the world is just tremendously fulfilling.

In the acknowledgments for Goth Girl Rising, you say that you never planned a sequel to The Astonishing Adventures of Fanboy and Goth Girl, but that you received lots of emails from fans who wanted the story to continue. Do you think that your fans will be satisfied with the way Goth Girl Rising ends? Will Fanboy and Goth Girl's story continue in another book?
Oh, wow. I have no idea if people will be satisfied. I'm not even sure I want people to be satisfied by the ending. Sometimes I get hassled for my endings because I tend not to tie everything up in a nice, neat little package, but I think at times an untidy ending—something that lingers and gnaws at your brain—can be more satisfying than something that just drops all the answers in your lap and says, "Here! Ta-da!" I hope people who read the book will get to the end and say, "Oh, OK, I get it," and then sit back and speculate on their own as to what might happen next. And I hope they'll enjoy that.

I don't know about another book. I tend to think not. I think with Goth Girl Rising, I've taken these characters as far as I can. Or should. I think everything that happens next is pretty easily predicted, and easy predictions don't make for great storytelling.

Then again, I never thought I would write the sequel, so who knows!

Barry Lyga’s debut YA novel, The Astonishing Adventures of Fanboy and Goth Girl, told the story of two high school outcasts: one a self-described geek who spent most of his time writing and illustrating his comic book, and one an angry, depressed girl still reeling from the death of her mother. Fanboy and Goth Girl […]

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